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‘Fiasco’ - technical issues interrupt council review of its children’s services

PUBLISHED: 20:04 23 June 2020 | UPDATED: 20:04 23 June 2020

Norfolk county council has been criticised for a technical “fiasco” which forced them to reschedule a key oversight meeting into the work of its children’s services. Photo: YouTube/NCC

Norfolk county council has been criticised for a technical “fiasco” which forced them to reschedule a key oversight meeting into the work of its children’s services. Photo: YouTube/NCC

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Norfolk county council has been criticised for a technical “fiasco” which forced them to reschedule a key oversight meeting into the work of its children’s services.

Steve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at County Hall. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYSteve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at County Hall. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Questions to the county council’s children’s services director on the work of the department during the pandemic have been delayed, after technical issues saw the meeting adjourned minutes in.

The scrutiny committee was set to launch a review of the council’s Covid-19 response, starting with issues affecting children, families and schools in the county.

It comes after the department faced criticism from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission in its recent joint inspection report.

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Steffan Aquarone, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Norfolk County Council. Picture: Alex BroadwaySteffan Aquarone, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Norfolk County Council. Picture: Alex Broadway

But after the meeting began, on Tuesday, June 23, viewers were unable to hear the presentation.

The council apologised for the technical issue and confirmed the meeting would be rescheduled.

Labour group leader and scrutiny chairman Steve Morphew said: “The cabinet must ensure councillors and members of the public have a way to stream live we can rely on. Whether an internal or external issue it reflects badly on the council and the county so it needs to be dealt with urgently. We can’t claim to be championing improved connectivity when we can’t even hold our own meetings online.”

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New figures have revealed how Norfolk’s county councillors were paid almost £1.3m in allowances and expenses over the past year. Pictured is Steffan Aquarone, Steve Morphew and Andrew Proctor. Picture: Alex Broadway/Denise Bradley/Norfolk County CouncilNew figures have revealed how Norfolk’s county councillors were paid almost £1.3m in allowances and expenses over the past year. Pictured is Steffan Aquarone, Steve Morphew and Andrew Proctor. Picture: Alex Broadway/Denise Bradley/Norfolk County Council

And Liberal Democrat group leader Steffan Aquarone added: “This morning’s scrutiny fiasco was deeply frustrating for officers, councillors and members of the public, who rightly expect to be able to cross-examine the county council’s response to coronavirus.

“It left us wondering why district councils have been able to help thousands of businesses and citizens, working remotely using the latest technology, whereas the county council doesn’t seem to be able to? Especially when the county have promoted themselves as examples of good practice.”

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And he said the Lib Dem group were “reiterating” their call for an independent local enquiry.

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk County Council.Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk County Council.

A county council spokeswoman said: “This morning’s scrutiny committee has been adjourned until Monday, June 29 at 10am, due to technical difficulties. We’re sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused to those taking part or viewing this important meeting. We will start the meeting from the beginning so everything is still done in public.

“We will post details on our website as soon as we can, with a link to the rearranged meeting.”

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Geoff Connell, director of IT, said: “This is the first significant technical problem we’ve experienced since we moved to remote working three months ago.

“This morning’s meeting was the first time we had streamed a meeting from a standard Teams meeting onto YouTube and we had carried out multiple tests ahead of the meeting, with back-up plans in place.

“However both members of staff supporting the streaming and the back-up had problems with their home broadband connections, despite being with different providers.

“This was extremely unfortunate and caused by local broadband issues and we are very sorry for any inconvenience caused to those taking part or watching on YouTube.”

He said the likelihood of the incident happening again was “minimal”, the council was carrying out further testing using its corporate network.

And he added: “Although Norfolk’s broadband infrastructure has coped remarkably well with the additional demands of remote working caused by Covid-19 we are absolutely focussed on working with infrastructure providers to continuously improve coverage and bandwidth. This incident emphasises how important remote connection performance is right now.”

And county council leader Andrew Proctor said: “Norfolk county council has responded extremely well to the pandemic and worked equally well with all our partners in the county protecting vulnerable people and continuing to deliver as many services as we have been able in the circumstances.

“As we move out of lockdown the council’s role will be just as important. Continuing to call for a local enquiry which will only take up valuable resources in the council is something I do not support. There is likely to be a national enquiry and I would far rather see us contribute to that.”

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